Last year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA) was a dream come true for veteran driver Mike Looney. After years of trying, Looney took home the coveted Grandfather Clock in Late Model Stock Car racing’s most illustrious event, the Martinsville 300.
Now, a year later, Looney looks to join an elite list of two-time winners.
The win came in Looney’s ninth attempt in the prestigious race at the paperclip-shaped race track. Prior to the win, Looney had missed the field four times and had a career-best finish of 10th place.
Looney pulled into Martinsville one year ago with a minuscule budget. As he prepares to defend his win, Looney and his team still have the under-budget mentality.
“The win really hasn’t changed a lot as far as the way we approach the business of racing; we are still humble, pretty under budget but it has opened some doors. It seems like the vendors are a little nicer to us and the engine builders are a little better to us,” Looney told Speed51.com powered by JEGS “Otherwise, it ain’t changed me a bit. It may have helped my confidence some, on a personal level, I don’t really feel like I have to prove anything to nobody anymore. We aren’t that much different, we are going back with the same goal as last year, to make the show and do the best we can. It would be hard to pull off two miracles in a row.”
Looney has been keeping a relatively low profile this season, not running 20-30 races like many other drivers; however, a limited schedule doesn’t mean he hasn’t been getting after it in the races he has run.
“We ran Franklin County (VA) some, Motor Mile (VA) some and Dominion (VA). The season has been pretty good really,” Looney stated. “We have two wins at Motor Mile, one at Franklin County and a whole slew of second-place finishes. We finished second our first time up there at Dominion, and we have a bunch of seconds at Motor Mile to Lee Pulliam and Philip Morris. We really haven’t raced that much, I don’t think we’ve run but about 13 races.”
One big difference between this year and Looney’s triumph last year is the time of the race, as this year’s ValleyStar 300 will be the first race under the new LED lighting system at Martinsville, something Looney thinks will have a significant impact on the race.
“I think the speeds are going to be up, generally when speeds go up, the potential for crashes go up; nobody really knows though, so I guess we will see,” he remarked. “I feel like you will be able to run the cars harder and longer just from it being cooler. The brakes will be able to stand a little more and the engines will be able to pull a little harder.”
Looney says one other key difference for him and his team this season is their preparation, with a slightly larger budget this season, Looney says it allows his team more flexibility on when to change parts.
“This year we have a little more budget. Before, we replaced parts when they were broken or completely wore out, but now we are on a more periodic schedule,” he explained. “We can replace brakes before they are completely worn out, and can replace engines and components before they are completely broken, which helps. Martinsville is a really long race, and you have to give a lot of attention to your brakes. I have a pretty comprehensive notebook of failures I’ve had over the years at race tracks, so we really try to double check everything. We really feel like we can make the show this year, so we really want to make sure that nothing is going to fall off or break.”
Looney has his weekend broken down into stages, describing the first phase as getting his No. 87 LMSC into the race. From there, Looney wants to “ride around and stay the hell out of the way” for the first 100 laps of the 200-lap race. Phase three is to go after it for the final 100 laps and let the chips fall where they may.
Challengers in this race are plenty, but from what Looney has seen, he believes Morris and Lee Pulliam are amongst his biggest challengers, along with Hampton Heat winner Bobby McCarty and McCarty’s teammate Timothy Peters.
Looney has the clock he won last year in the living room, and when it rings, he wakes his wife up to remind her that they won Martinsville. If he wins another one, he said the clock will go into car owner Billy Martin’s living room.
Looney will definitely be among the favorites chasing Late Model Stock immortality when the Late Model Stock Cars run on September 23 for the first time under the lights at Martinsville.
-By Reese Nobles, Speed51.com Mid-Atlantic Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com